Hot flashes are the most common complaint in Canada and the U.S., with up to 80 percent of women going through the menopausal transition reporting them.
They tend to occur at times when estrogen levels suddenly drop. For some, it feels like a light warmth while for others it feels excessively hot and can cause sweating and chills. Some women experience them starting with a panicky feeling or a sense of doom. The average length of a hot flash is between 30 seconds and 5 minutes.
Women who may experience hot flashes worse than others tend to be those who smoke, have excess weight, those who feel a lot of stress, and those who experience depression and/or anxiety.
Hot flashes can happen a few times per week or even as much as several times per day, depending on the person. When they happen at night (called “night sweats”), they make it difficult to get a good night’s rest. This can go on for the entire menopausal transition, up to 11 years. For some, hot flashes may even continue after menopause.
The good news is that there are natural approaches you can take to help alleviate hot flashes and night sweats. These include making small diet and lifestyle changes, as well as non-prescription remedies such as supplements.
A good first line of defense for hot flashes is to get regular exercise, adjust your thermostat, dress in layers and wear cotton clothing, manage stress, stay hydrated with water and reduce your regular intake of caffeine, alcohol, hot beverages, and spicy foods.
Many women find that their hot flashes come at specific times of the day or in specific situations. These are called triggers. Keeping a hot flash diary for one week with detailed notes will help pinpoint your triggers. Did you just drink coffee or have a glass of alcohol? Were you feeling stressed? Were you asleep? Did you eat a particular food? What were you wearing? Avoiding your triggers may help decrease the frequency of your hot flashes.
You can also try deep breathing exercises or drinking a cold glass of water during moments when you feel a hot flash coming on. Yoga, tai chi, meditation, acupuncture, and massage are relaxation techniques often recommended to help soothe hot flashes as they will also help lower stress levels.
Interestingly, there are some cultures that tend to not experience hot flashes nearly as much (e.g. Japanese, Korean, Mexican). This may possibly be due to cultural, lifestyle, or dietary differences.
A recent (2021) study published by the North American Menopause Society in the journal "Menopause" showed that diet changes can have a powerful effect on treating hot flashes.
“The combination of a low-fat, vegan diet and whole soybeans was associated with reduced frequency and severity of hot flashes and improved quality of life in vasomotor, psychosocial, physical, and sexual domains in postmenopausal women.”
Other natural approaches to help ease hot flashes are the supplements Meno-Prev + Mood and Memory and Estrovera.
Estrovera by Metagenics uses a herbal formula (rhapontic rhubarb root) that has also been shown to provide relief from a wide range of complaints including sleep problems, depressive mood, anxiety, bladder problems, vaginal dryness and more.
Meno-Prev by CanPrev Premium Natural Health Products contains black cohosh, a North American herb that has been prescribed to women in menopause for decades. Its formula includes a combination of herbs to help alleviate a variety of complaints while fostering a healthy mood balance, enhancing memory and supporting sexual health.
Midlife is not a time to neglect regular doctor visits. Discuss your body changes with your doctor. Hot flashes and other complaints associated with menopause could be a potential warning of something else.
As well, if you suffer from frequent and severe hot flashes, you may wish to discuss prescription options with your doctor. Medication can have its risks and side effects, but prescription hormone therapy with estrogen is an effective treatment for hot flashes. Your quality of life and ability to function is of utmost importance.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). Perimenopause. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/perimenopause
Harvard Health Publishing. (2020, April 14). Perimenopause: Rocky road to menopause. https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/perimenopause-rocky-road-to-menopause
Harvard Health Publishing. (2020, March 1). Menopause and mental health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/menopause-and-mental-health
Ferarri, N. (2020, August 14). Menopause-related hot flashes and night sweats can last for years. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/menopause-related-hot-flashes-night-sweats-can-last-years-201502237745
Burnett, T. (2021, February 5). Caffeine and menopause symptoms: Is there a link? Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/menopause/expert-answers/menopause-symptoms-caffeine/faq-20119077
Neal D. Barnard, MD, FACC. Your Body in Balance: The New Science of Food, Hormones, and Health
Pat Wingert and Barbara Kantrowitz. The Menopause Book